Joining us from the end of Chapter 1? Keep reading to find out what happens next…
Chapter 2 Scene 1
Our rental van stunk after dropping the dogs off with a nearby vet to be treated for fleas, ear mites, and kennel cough. And even though the medical professional we’d worked with was as human as Mr. Puppy Pusher, Hunter showered this second one-body with copious amounts of cash and appreciation.
In exchange, the vet had promised to call us if he was unable to find homes for the outcast dogs in a timely manner. None would be put to sleep on our watch.
It was the right choice. But still…. “I don’t know what you plan to do with thirty pets,” I muttered as the remaining bloodlings squirmed in my lap. For obvious reasons, we’d need to find families for this trio of four-leggers ourselves. “We don’t exactly have a home to take them to,” I elaborated.
It hadn’t really bothered me before that Hunter’s life was always in limbo. As an enforcer for our region’s shifter governing body, his expenses—and mine by proxy—were all paid up front. Still, the bloodling had never bothered to purchase a home and defend a territory. Instead, we just holed up in hotel after hotel wherever the job took us.
That lifestyle would be a lot tougher to accomplish with a few dozen canines in tow.
Rather than answering my implied criticism, Hunter shot a single amused glance in my direction before returning his eyes to the road. Still, he let one hand drift down to settle comfortingly on my knee.
In response, the largest male pup pounced upon the encroaching palm and began a tooth-and-claws tussle that looked prone to draw blood. “Calm down, Star,” I chastened the youngster even though Hunter’s smile never wavered.
Star cocked his head to one side, eyes glancing back and forth between me and my mate. Then, clearly deciding that it was better to ask forgiveness than permission, he leapt across the center console so he could continue nibbling with impunity. After only an hour in our presence, the pup already knew that Hunter had more patience than I did for sharp puppy teeth.
“We’ll work it all out,” the adult bloodling promised as the youngster tried to scrabble up the larger male’s shirt-front. “But you have more important matters to focus on at the moment.”
I winced, and not because the remaining puppies had hurt me either. Unlike Star, the smaller male and female were weak from lack of food and spent most of their time napping. At the moment, both were nestled into a ball of gray fur with two noses, two tails, and eight tiny paws. It was impossible to tell where one puppy ended and the next began, and it was just as impossible to look at the youngsters without feeling an affectionate buoyancy in my chest.
No, my negative reaction wasn’t due to the bloodlings—a tricky subject that my mate and I would need to broach later. At the moment, Hunter was right. I was more concerned about the unwanted family reunion I’d been invited to attend.
“I don’t really see why I have to go,” I whined, then paused as the tone of my own voice hit my ears. I sounded like a teenager, not the world-weary twenty-one-year-old I professed to be. Still, didn’t relatives bring out the worst in all of us?
“You have to go because you’ll regret it if you don’t,” my mate answered, turning down a tree-lined lane leading to a lush and vibrant green space. We’d spent longer than intended at the vet and were arriving late, so cars already filled the parking area up ahead.
The vista was beautiful—lush, vibrant, full of flowers. Too bad those tulips and daisies were stuck in vases atop monochromatic gravestones.
Because this wasn’t precisely a family reunion. More of a family disunion. A month ago, I’d gotten a note from a mother who had ignored me since birth informing me that the father who had abandoned me twelve years earlier was no longer living.
Did I want to go to his funeral? No way in hell. Did I feel obligated to attend, especially with my mate pushing me along every step of the way? Yes, yes I did.
“Do you want me to come with you?” the aforementioned mate nudged, disentangling his arm from seatbelt and wolf pup alike long enough to take my hand. Hunter’s solid presence settled my stomach and fed both warmth and strength into limbs that had grown abruptly chilled despite the typical sultry heat of a Virginia summer.
The truth was that yes, of course, I wanted him to walk in with me. But meeting up with my family after over a decade apart was something I needed to handle on my own. So I shook my head, smiled at a middle-aged gentleman walking past with a sleek, leashed pit bull at heel, then gently slid the much meeker napping canines out of my own lap and onto the seat I was leaving behind.
Opening the door, I forced myself to lower shoulders that had hunched upwards from sheer anticipatory tension. I felt worse than I had a month earlier when I’d gone into battle against armed werewolves while naked and armed only with a stick. Then, all I’d had to worry about was a gunshot wound to the chest.
Now, as I prepared to meet the one-body who ditched me without a backward glance when I was nine years old, I was terrified my mother might rip out my entire heart.
The rest of Chapter Two is a click away!